BY VERONIQUE DEBLOIS
According to IBISWorld Caterers Market Research Report from June 2016, the catering industry has reached sales of $9 billion. I recently had an opportunity to discuss the business, from an artistic standpoint, with Chef Vitella of Franco Vitella Catered Affairs.
Chef Vitella has taken his boutique culinary design company to unparalleled heights in the tri-state area. His career began on his parents’ farm in Milan, Italy.
“My earliest memory is of being eight years old working in my father’s restaurant. I remember my dad making the homemade pasta for the daily menu. He would rub the double zero flour between his fingers to see how fine it was,” he says.
Chef Vitella’s business is family-run. “My mother does all the sauces in the kitchen. My wife is my partner and in charge of sales and event planning. My aunt and cousins freelance from time to time,” he says.
What differentiates Chef Vitella from other caterers is his passion for transforming food into art. His wife Ally has a background in television production and is the “ideas person” who works closely with clients to craft the concept of the events while Chef Vitella taps into his own creativity to custom-design unique and trendsetting menus.
“We try to incorporate art with the food. We embrace the goals of the client and use them to create unforgettable experiences for the guests. We try not to use any concepts twice so the events are always unique,” Chef Vitella explains.
Preferring not to employ traditional buffets or passing trays at functions, he insists that the decor become part of the food and vice versa. The placement of food is an art in itself. Chef Vitella has coined the term “food furniture” and explains that he plates his food onto something interesting. “To me, it’s like putting food on its own furniture,” he says.
His successful catering business and expanding celebrity clientele began as a stroke of pure luck. “I started off as a deli owner and was given an opportunity to cater an event in New York City. I didn’t even have business cards to give to the person inquiring about another catering job. Lo and behold, the person was asking me to cater for John Legend’s Grammy Awards party for Pepsi. From there, the business just took off.”
Some of Chef Vitella’s favorite celebrity clients include athletes Serena Williams and Roger Federer, musicians Bruce Springsteen and Jason Derulo, comedians Jason Sudeikis and the late Robin Williams, and actors Robert De Niro and Vince Vaughn. The highlight of his career was catering the NFL owners’ party for the Super Bowl.
Catered Affairs is working on the idea of floating food. “Yes, food that floats…and, of course, food instantly frozen from nitrogen. Our Dragon Popcorn is a crowd-pleaser for both young and old. We mix flavored popcorn into nitrogen to freeze it. The best part is when guests bite down on a piece of popcorn, cold smoke blows from their mouths and noses,” Chef Vitella says.
When asked how he goes about reinventing menus and coming up with fresh ideas, he answers: “Research. Going out to eat. Going to a museum. Looking at decorating magazines. There’s inspiration everywhere!”